Last month a fellow Triangle Writers member and I had our routine brunch in Cary, NC at one of my favorite French eateries, La Farm Bakery. She asked me about what I have read recently. Other than a few instructional books (new SEO strategies, comedy and memoir writing), I had started reading Herzog by Saul Bellow, but was not captivated by it. My reading time is limited, so I look for something that I will enjoy reading.
Like many things in other facets of our lives, if we don’t care for something new we revert back to the tried and true. If I go to a new restaurant and don’t really care for the atmosphere, I’ll go back to my favorite place and order something different. When I’m not interested in a band that a friend recommends, I don’t keep them on repeat hoping that I’ll start to like it some day, I switch to my Ricky Nelson and Patsy Cline station on Pandora and my heart is happy.
The same applies to books. I have many books that are very dear to me. They are dog-eared and underlined with notes in the margins. When I’m thirsty for inspiration I just open them up and drink it all in again. These are a few books on my shelves that have a special place in my soul. What books do you re-read?
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
Premise: Based on the true story of Chris McCandless (who later changed his name to Alexander Supertramp), an Emory college grad who hitchhiked America with Alaska as his destination. He wanted to eliminate his possessions, simplify his life and live free of societal obligations.
How many times I’ve read it: 5
Why I love it: McCandless’ passion echoes the forthright beliefs of Thoreau, which I very closely identify with (see below). Being true to oneself and following through with a lifestyle that reflects your beliefs is very important to me. Reading about McCandless’ dedication and travels (although ultimately fatal) inspires me to create a truly authentic life with calculated risks. Us writers should!
“A challenge in which a successful outcome is assured isn’t a challenge at all.”
“I have some good friends here, but no one who really understands why I am here or what I do…I have gone too far alone. I have always been unsatisfied with life as most people live it. Always I want to live more intensely and richly.”
Mary Westerberg (about Chris/Alex): “There was something fascinating about him. Alex struck me as much older than twenty-four. Everything I said, he’d demand to know more about what I meant, about why I thought this way or that. He was hungry to learn about things. Unlike most of us, he was the sort of person who insisted on living out his beliefs.”
“So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun…But I fear that you will ignore my advice. You think that I am stubborn, but you are even more stubborn than me…Don’t settle down and sit in one place. Move around, be nomadic, make each day a new horizon…[Joy] is in everything and anything we might experience. We just have to have the courage to turn against our habitual lifestyle and engage in unconventional living…It is simply waiting out there for you to grasp it, and all you have to do is reach for it. The only person you are fighting is yourself…spend as little as possible and you will enjoy it much more immensely…Don’t hesitate or allow yourself to make excuses. Just get out and do it. Just get out and do it. You will be very, very glad you did.”
“My days were more exciting when I was penniless…The freedom and simple beauty of [this life] are just too good to pass up.”
“…he intended to invent an utterly new life for himself, one in which he would be free to wallow in unfiltered experience…master of his own destiny.”
(Each chapter begins with quotes from other authors, I’ve underlined sections of most of those too!)
Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck
Premise: The true story of Steinbeck’s travels in late 1960 from his home in Sag Harbor on Long Island, across America and back again with his French poodle Charley. He realized he had written about American people for twenty years, but was writing based on memory and wanted to reconnect with America.
Times I’ve read it: 2
Why I love it: I discovered this book in Salinas, California when I walked into an exhibit at the Steinbeck Museum that looked like where I grew up (Long Island). The truck he took the journey with, named Rocinante, was there in the exhibit and looked like it had never left the showroom. What strikes me most about this book, besides the whimsy of a cross-country adventure, is that his perceptions of America and its future are similar to what would be suggested today–and the book is over 50 years old now! I love how closely he brings the reader to his random experiences and “the hunger to be somewhere else.” Each time I pick this book up I want it to be a movie and I would love to learn and somehow be a part of getting this story to the screen. I’m thinking Tom Hanks would be John Steinbeck.
“Can it be that we do not love to be reminded that we are very young and callow in a world that was old when we came into it? And could there be a strong resistance to the certainty that a living world will continue its stately way when we no longer inhabit it?”
(Steinbeck talking to Charley) “‘…Well, that’s a tiny canyon with a clear and lovely stream bordered with wild azaleas and fringed with big oaks. And on one of those oaks my father burned his name with a hot iron together with the name of the girl he loved. In the long years the bark grew over the burn and covered it. And just a little while ago, a man cut that oak for firewood and his splitting wedge uncovered my father’s name and the man sent it to me. In the spring, Charley, when the valley is carpeted with blue lupines like a flowery sea, there’s the smell of heaven up here, the smell of heaven.’ I printed it once more on my eyes, south, west, and north, and then we hurried away from the permanent and changeless past where my mother is always shooting a wildcat and my father is always burning his name with his love.”
(When Steinbeck’s truck breaks down.) “And that ancient law went into effect which says that when you need towns they are very far apart.”
“We value virtue but do not discuss it.”
“I wonder why progress looks so much like destruction.”
“She knew exactly what she wanted and he didn’t, but his want would ache in him all his life.”
(Parking his truck beside a lake.) “There Charley could with his delicate exploring nose read his own particular literature on bushes and tree trunks and leave his message there, perhaps as important in endless time as these pen scratches I put down on perishable paper.”
“I made coffee so rich it could float a nail.”
“Even while I protest the assembly-line production of our food, our songs, our language, and eventually our souls, I know that it was a rare home that baked good bread…”
“…our morning eyes describe a different world than do our afternoon eyes.”
“A sad soul can kill you quicker, far quicker, than a germ.”
“When I was young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch. When years described me as mature, the remedy prescribed was middle age. In middle age I was assured that greater age would calm my fever and now that I am fifty-eight perhaps senility will do the job.”
Walden and Other Writings by Henry David Thoreau
Premise: Walden’s infamous testimony to his lifestyle of simplicity.
How many times I’ve read it: How many stars are in the sky?
Why I love it: Thoreau’s focus on individuality and connection with nature comfort me in the decisions I make for my own life. “Life Without Principle” and “Civil Disobedience” are holy to me. His focus was on living a life that was meaningful to oneself–without compromise. Before I focused my career on writing I didn’t feel real. Thoreau’s principles are more logical to me than anything else I’ve ever read. “Life Without Principle” underscores “an escape from the corrupting influence of all the pressures which interfere with self-realization.” His work is about doing what you love, regardless of the compensation. Thus, I write!
“…our life is not altogether a forgetting, but also, alas! to a great extent, a remembering, of that which we should never have been conscious of, certainly not in our waking hours.”
“What is it to be born free and not to live free?”
“A man had better starve at once than lose his innocence in the process of getting his bread.”
“If I should sell both my forenoons and afternoons to society, as most appear to do, I am sure that for me there would be nothing left worth living for.”
“Do not hire a man who does your work for money, but him who does it for the love of it.”
“It is life near the bone where it is sweetest.”
“Things do not change: we change.”
“Why do you stay here and live this mean moiling life, when a glorious existence is possible for you? Those same stars twinkle over other fields than these.”
“Goodness is the only investment that never fails.”
“…I sometimes saw in him a man whom I had not seen before, and I did not know whether he was as wise as Shakespeare or as simply ignorant as a child, whether to suspect him of a fine poetic consciousness or of stupidity.”
“A man is not a good man to me because he will feed me if I should be starving, or warm me if I should be freezing, or pull me out of a ditch if I should ever fall into one. I can find you a Newfoundland dog that will do as much.”
“…when an acorn and a chestnut fall side by side, the one does not remain inert to make way for the other, but both obey their own laws, and spring and grow and flourish as best they can, till one, perchance, overshadows and destroys the other. If a plant cannot live according to its nature, it dies; and so a man.”